ORLANDO, Fla. — Justin Anderson was about to start his whiteboard presentation in a nearly empty basketball hall when John Lucas III interrupted him.
“Can I make a suggestion?” said Lucas, who spent the last year as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. “Are you going to respect a coach with an upside down hat?”
“I mean, yeah. It’s me, right? Anderson said, drawing a murmur of laughter from the eight people gathered in folding chairs. Anderson, wearing a dark blue baseball cap, said he wasn’t trying to be funny.
“Have you ever seen your coach wear a hat in practice? Lucas said.
“No, you’re right,” said Anderson, 28, a six-year NBA veteran. He took off the hat.
He turned back to the whiteboard and began his presentation: a fake Phoenix Suns breakdown.
At first he seemed nervous.
“We have Phoenix tonight, guys,” Anderson began, alternating between shuffling his hands and pointing to the whiteboard, which had notes organized into sections like “Keys To Win.” “We don’t know what Chris Paul’s status is. He went out. If he comes out tonight, they’ll probably insert Cam Payne. He’s averaged, I believe, 16 over the last five.
In the next few hours, Anderson and a group of current and former NBA and WNBA players would coach the nation’s top high school players at the annual Top 100 Camp hosted by the NBA Players Union. For decades, this week-long camp has served a dual purpose: spotlighting top teenage prospects for scouts and providing a training program for players considering coaching as a future career.
Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green and Jerry Stackhouse, who coaches the Vanderbilt University men’s basketball team, attended the camp.
This year’s coaching staff included one WNBA player: retired three-time All-Star Marie Ferdinand-Harris. NBA players ranged from those with brief careers, like Peyton Siva, who played 24 games for the Orlando Magic in 2013-14, to more established ones, like Rodney Hood, who has been in the NBA since 2014.
“I just know that I can’t play forever. I suffered a serious injury when I tore my Achilles tendon,” Hood, 29, said, referring to a tendon injury from 2019. “Just understanding that made me think a lot about what I’m going to do after basketball, and I want to stay involved in the game.”
For Ferdinand-Harris, 43, the camp was a test drive to see if she liked coaching.
“Right now the trend is for more female involvement, and not just on the women’s side of basketball, but also on the men’s side,” she said. “They are looking for qualified women to fill positions.”
The camp began the day before Anderson’s whiteboard presentation. Lucas, who has played for six NBA teams, has led the coaching program for the past three years after participating as a player for eight years. His father, John Lucas Jr., has held coaching positions in the NBA since the early 1990s and helps scout players for this camp. Young Lucas, 39, assigned each coaching participant a team to scout and discuss. There was also a videoconference with David Fizdale, who has experience as an NBA assistant and head coach.
A fundamental principle of professional coaching, said Lucas, is “to be able to handle egos. How to deal with a superstar player who requires you to use a challenge. The importance of making eye contact when talking to your team. When to use profanity. When not to.
“You have to be able to deal with every single member of this team that has been their man on the team before – their whole life,” he said. “How do you get these 15 guys to adhere to a system and work as a unit?”
Anderson took note of the superstar lessons.
“I rubbed shoulders with the humblest of superstars like Dirk Nowitzki,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of guys who are maybe a little more needy. But I think the most important thing that stuck in my mind was that once you’re done being a player, it all starts again. It goes back to level one and you almost have to piece together your resume.
The NBA has long been criticized for often having few black coaches, despite having predominantly black players. The tally fluctuates, but currently 15 of the 30 head coaches are black — the most — and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is of Filipino descent. Two years ago, the number of non-white coaches was just seven. Boot camp can help black players in particular get noticed for jobs, but it’s not a guarantee.
Often ex-players are hired as player development coaches – if they are hired at all – and have no significant input into tactics.
“I started as a player development coach,” Lucas said. “And I was put in these positions: ‘Go talk to this person. Go talk to this person. What’s going on? Why is he acting this way? Oh, can you still play? Jump in the field “Now we need you five out of five. Three out of three. Four out of four. So they still see you as a player, but it’s up to you.”
Lucas spoke to the camp group about his rise through the coaching ranks.
“Would you take a $25,000 job?” Lucas said. “Because that’s what the video guys get.”
“So why are they coming at us with this?” said Jawad Williams, who played overseas and in 90 NBA games with Cleveland from 2008 to 2011.
“Because that’s their way of being, ‘Do you really want it?'” Lucas said. “Do you see what I’m saying? Like, you just finished making probably $500,000.
“I got several calls like that,” Williams, 39, said. ” I do not do it. I box do it.”
Williams said he had scouted for several NBA teams. “But they always come to you, ‘We’ve got that entry-level video coordinator or internship,'” he said.
“It’s their way of confusing you,” Lucas said, as several players nodded. “You start all over again.”
Lucas said players should consider money and team culture when deciding whether or not to take a job. Next, some of the players offered their perspective. Siva, who played under Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville, said Pitino would be the last coach he would call for a job.
“I know his system. I can tell anyone who plays for him. I can tell you whatever he is going to say,” Siva said. “But as a culture, I know myself as a person. I wouldn’t deal with it now as an employee of his. I know what hours he wants his trainers to work. I know the work he expects.
Lucas also spoke about the importance of being honest with the players. He asked Hood if a point guard he had played with had an ego. Hood said the guard was a good teammate.
“I know it’s your boy,” Lucas said. “You are a coach now. I caught you. You don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. You are still a player. See how I got you?
Hood acknowledged that this teammate does “silly stuff” sometimes, using a different word for “tricks.”
At the end of camp, Lucas conducts mock interviews, acting as head coach hiring assistants. The transition from player to manager can be difficult in many ways, but Lucas offered simple advice.
“Just be you,” Lucas said. “The worst thing I see in coaches is that they try to imitate someone else.” He added, “Where’s your voice?”
Don’t wear a baseball cap.